Defend and Conquer.
55 mile Mountainous point to point Road Stage.
Today would be a big big day for us 4 RPC riders, we had not only the Team GC lead to defend but also 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th on Overall Classification. This stage could prove decisive and could see some huge time loses due to the fact it contained two long hard climbs early on in the stage, then 2 long exposed sections of dual carriage way and finally a punchy 500 meter climb to the finish line. We had a rough game plan and knew what we needed to do in order to hold our positions.
This was all good and well but once again I was not in good shape, although this time I really wasn't. I'm not sure if it was something that I ate last night but the whole evening was spent not far from the loo and this morning was pretty much the same. I was in two minds about even starting the race but as stage start approached I decided I would at least give it a go and see how i faired, for the team if nothing else. As we grouped up at the start, Adrian was presented with the Leaders yellow jersey, a proud moment for both Adrian and the team.
Finally we started a stage in the sunshine and as we progressed through the 7 mile neutralized zone I realised I was way too over dressed, off came the arm warmers and down came the zip on the gilet. The flag soon dropped and the race began, with only a few miles before we hit the climb all of the top riders were keen to get near the front, I was feeling ok up to now so I also headed up towards the head of the race. The climb began and the pace at the front was dialling in to one speed; Fast! After 500 meters of climbing, half of the field had already been gapped. I was finding the pace hard going and dangling off the back of the lead group. The rest of the team were up there and looking good ready to defend Adrian's yellow jersey.
The climb went on and on with more riders pinging off the back in to no mans land. I was just about hanging on but as we approached the summit, the riders at the front of the group shifted in to another gear and upped the pace considerably, I can only assume this was because of the riders who were sprinting for the King of the Mountains points. Unfortunately I didn't have this extra gear and I began to loose contact, It was only when I passed our road side supports with there very own RPC banner that I was informed we were at the top. This spurred me on to sprint back to the group but just as I did I was hit with the headwind and I was going nowhere. As the leaders began to pull away, I settled in to a small group of bunch fodder that began to try and chase back on, As some of our rivals for the Team GC were in this group I decided to leave them to work and so I just sat on and waited to see what would happen.
As we descended the first climb we did eventually make contact with the front group and it was at this point that I decided to remove my gilet and hand it to the official in the car following the group. As i did we hit another rise and the group began to pull away, this forced me to chase hard to get back on, which i did, but just at the same time we hit the start of the second climb. This was not good and as the pace once again put me in the red I decided the best thing i could do was to let them them go and ride my own pace otherwise i would be dead on my feet with a long way to go until the finish.
Just as before I ended up in a small group of riders, all of which had also been put in to difficulty with the pace at the front of the leading bunch. We rode a steady though and off and just kept plugging away hoping we might get back on. Up in the lead group, The other 3; Adrian, Tony and Mike were defending well and chasing every move that was being made, sprinting after both small and large attacks and nullifying them as they were being made. The boys really were doing the team proud, I only wish I could have been in the position to help but at the moment with my physical issues it’s just not going to happen, thankfully though they are proving to be strong enough without me.
Back in the second group on the road we had just started the main descent off of the second climb, this was a proper descent, just like what you get on real mountains. I was following second wheel but decided that the guys leading us down didn't know too much about descending fast, I decided to take up the reins and show them the way. I engaged the 53x12, tucked in low to the bike and threw it round the various hairpin corners, over taking a few cars and chasing a couple of motorbikes whilst I was at it. At the bottom on the descent there was a really nasty left hand corner which everyone hit way too fast, I locked up the rear and drifted round that bad boy and thankfully everyone else stayed upright as well. We were now about to begin the first of two really long, boring stretches of dual carridge way and as luck would have it we were joined by another group of riders who had been chasing us since the top of the second climb. This was really good news because now we had a nice group of about 12 rather than 6, this would make the dual carridge way sections much more bearable.
We all worked really well for the next 60 minutes or so and survived both of the 8 mile stints on the dual carridge ways. We had a nice chaingang going but a few times i did have to shout some orders about. I kind of took it on myself to be the instigator of the group, maybe because i was best placed on GC at the time who knows but it kept the group working well and everyone was pretty happy about it. I had to tell two riders to stop going through so fast because they were creating gaps which was counter-productive to our cause, I also had to tell another rider to sit on the back and don't do any turns because he was just slowing us down. Cycling is know for its strange make-up and how rivals can become companions to each other when they are in a break away, this was evident today when I done an “on the fly trade” with a rider from another team who had ran out of fluid. I traded my remaining bottle for a gel which saved him from dehydration and bagged me some more caffeine injected syrup. Bargin!
7 minutes up the road and back up with the lead group which was about 45 riders big, 2 riders broke clear from the bunch on the last dual carridge way section. These riders were no threat to the Adrian's yellow jersey so they decided not to chase. These riders managed to just about stay clear of the field and contested the sprint after cresting the final 500 meter sting in the tail. It would be Simon Ernest of the “Lost MTBers” team who would take the win with ex-race leader Gly Griffiths of Urban Cyclery in second. Ade, Tony and Mike all finished in the group and rode up the final climb at a stead pace as they had tomorrows stage in there minds and wanted as little of todays stage in there legs.
And so, back to my group who were now tackling the last stretch of road towards the finish. Everyone was pretty drained both physically and mentally after the hills and dual carridge ways and as we hit the final climb we the group splintered but i was strong enough to crest the climb in 3rd and claim back another spot before the line. I finished in 54th position on the stage and a mammoth 7.09 minutes back on the stage winners time. However, I may have lost a big chunk of time but we were still the second group to finish and there were a lot of groups still minutes behind and some riders lost as much as 35 minutes on todays stage!
So with the stage over and the results in, this is how it stands in the rankings; I have now dropped from 7th all the way to 50th on GC, bad times but not much I can do about it. As a team we are still leading the Team Classification by 3 minutes 13 seconds which is great and Adrian still holds on to the yellow jersey with Tony sitting nicely in second overall. The best development after todays stage however is the fact that Mike has now moved up to 3rd position on GC!!! This means that RPC/Subzero not only lead the team GC but also hold 1st, 2nd and 3rd (and 50th!!!!) in the overall classification. Its so crazy its like the race has been fixed!! its fair to say the RPC are dominating the RAS.
So at first we thought that today would be a big day but now it looks like tomorrow will be a huge day for us. If we can maintain all of our current positions and I can pull something out of the hat to move back up in the GC, RPC will walk away with an immense result. However, there is one hell of a parcours that stands in our way; A 50 mile point to point race which finished at the summit of 6km long climb! I am hoping that I will have some good fortune and actually be able to climb as well as I should be able to but i don't think realistically I will be in that kind of shape, but you never know. I suppose we will find out soon enough. Watch this space.